An investigation by The Humane Society of the United States has uncovered deeply disturbing abuse of captive black bears inside bear baiting events in South Carolina — the only state that still allows this type of competition, one of the earliest forms of cruelty challenged by anti-cruelty advocates in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe. The HSUS’ video footage offers the first publicly available view of these inhumane spectator events in the Western world.
At bear baiting contests, which participants call “bear bays,” a captive bear is tethered to a stake in an enclosed area, then set upon with packs of dogs for the entertainment of cheering spectators. HSUS undercover investigators attended four events, held in Spartanburg, Hickory Grove and Travelers Rest, S.C., at which the captive bear’s claws and some of her teeth had been cut, rendering the animal defenseless. The bear — believed to be the same bear, a 15-year-old female, at all four events — was tied to a stake in a fenced area and attacked by up to three dogs at a time for several hours.
“It’s inexcusable to stake a defanged, declawed, defenseless bear and offer the poor creature up as a living piñata for dogs to attack,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “The people of South Carolina will be outraged to know that there are people still staging these spectacles in the state.”
Although the animals are not supposed to make repeated contact during bear baiting events, HSUS investigators documented repeated contact between the dogs and bear at every single event they attended. There were numerous instances when dogs bit the bear and attempted to jump on her. Investigators also saw the frightened bear trying to swat the dogs away in defense.
From 2005 to 2008, the state Department of Natural Resources issued permits for 26 captive bears to be held in South Carolina, and some of these animals are used in cruel bear baiting competitions. Although the DNR provides regulatory oversight and issues permits for the keeping of captive wildlife, the agency has failed to inspect the conditions at bear baiting events or to take action against those who violate the terms of their permits. The HSUS called on the DNR to put an end to bear baiting by revoking permits for bears used in these abusive events.
In the course of our investigation, The HSUS contacted the South Carolina DNR as well as other state officials and law enforcement to alert them to the cruelty repeatedly occurring at bear baiting contests. However, officials have failed to take action to end this abuse.
The bear baiting events investigated by The HSUS were organized by the American Plott Association and the National Plott Hound Association, groups affiliated with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. The HSUS has called on the AKC and UKC to intervene and stop these exhibitions.
After viewing HSUS’ footage of bear baiting, two expert bear biologists — Lynn Rogers, Ph.D., and Carrie Hunt, Ph.D. — explain that the bear shows signs of extreme fear and responds with only defensive behavior, rather than aggression. The biologists, each with more than 30 years of experience studying bears in the field, agree that bear baiting is a cruel practice that should be stopped.
- Black bears are shy animals who usually avoid contact with humans. They can live nearly 40 years.
- South Carolina is the only state where bear baiting is known to occur. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources issued permits for 26 captive bears to be kept in the state. While some of the bears are kept as exotic pets or in roadside zoos, about eight of the animals are estimated to be used in bear baiting.
- Bear baiting in South Carolina is similar to bear baiting competitions staged in the 16th and 17th centuries, which are now prohibited everywhere in the world (though still practiced in Pakistan). Bear baiting and bull baiting were among the first types of animal fighting to be outlawed, even before animal welfare organizations were formed in the 19th century.
- The term “bear baiting” is also sometimes used to describe the unsporting practice of setting out food to lure wild bears to a location, then shooting them at close range. This practice is unrelated to the bear-dog competitions occurring in South Carolina.
- In a single bear baiting competition attended by The HSUS, a bear was tormented by three dogs at a time for four hours. Nearly 100 teams of dogs, or nearly 300 dogs total, were let loose to harass her in quick succession.
- Bear baiting is an underground activity. Attendees bring lawn chairs, purchase concessions, and watch the bear-dog competitions for entertainment.
- In South Carolina in 2009, a captive bear attacked a woman and caused significant injuries. The man holding the permit for this bear was involved in bear baiting.
- The DNR issued captive bear permits to individuals who had been convicted of violating wildlife laws, including poaching a bear out of season.
- In other states, a mechanical or taxidermied bear is used for training events for hunting dogs. Only South Carolina finds it necessary to inflict this cruelty on a living animal.
- Reports indicate that not only do bears endure such treatment during organized events several times a year, but some are also subjected to this treatment year-round in backyards and out of sight. Our investigators also found that one individual has private bear baiting competitions on his property every Saturday for $5 per dog.
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